I thought about compiling an interview where Filippa and I share our experiences as Swedes living and starting our careers in fashion abroad. What our experiences of internships, part-time jobs, work and school is like. As Filippa has lived in London for the past three years and is about to graduate from London College of Fashion, along with me who is doing my first internship in the neighbouring country Denmark, this could be an interesting cyber-conversation.
Rosa: You’ve studied in London for some time now and interned at some places. Which places, and what was it like?
Filippa: I did my first internship in fashion media the summer after first year, when I was 19. Even though I was just one year into BA Fashion Journalism, I felt like I had to see the industry side of the field I was pursuing. I had not learnt much on the course by this point, so I thought an internship would help me advance. I ended up doing three; Grazia UK, Sunday Times Style and Stylist UK. Doing them in London felt natural as I’m based here, and through Fashion Monitor (students at LCF get an account) it was easy to find email addresses to people in the industry. Finding an internship with a fashion team at a London-based publication was easier than I anticipated. I had a great first experience at Grazia. It was just two weeks long, but the team was lovely and I got the hang of it quickly. I was mostly based in the fashion cupboard, organising samples, but got to do some computer work as well. Sunday Times Style was similar, short but sweet. I got to assist shoots as well as do some research tasks. Once again, lovely team. This was when fashion journalist Pandora Sykes was still there, and I had just started following her work. It was exciting to work close to someone I truly look up to although our interaction was limited to say the least. Sunday Times have a swanky office by London Bridge, which was motivating. Then I did six weeks at Stylist, which taught me a lot. I had some first negative experiences, but overall good ones. I remember going back to second year feeling more confident in my skills and in my choice of course. Also, last summer I was at Harper’s Bazaar for a month. The tasks were routine for me by then, but the interns were more part of the team than at the other titles. My intern colleague Will was a great accomplice, and I was happy to get experience from a heavy weight Hearst title like Bazaar.
R: You also did an internship in Sweden, how was that?
F: In second year we had a work placement term after Christmas. We had up to four months and it was largely up to to the student to find somewhere. I wanted to do an editorial internship this time and applied to Bon Magazine/Bon.se, based in Stockholm. Since I was quite young I thought it was a cool indie magazine and website, and enjoyed their mix of fashion and culture. I was at Bon for four months, living at home in Stockholm again. Working with a small team was different, and great for an intern. There is a chance to get close with the team, and really contribute to the overall results. I got to do research and write. I did my first professional interviews and had pieces published. In addition, I made friends there, like you, Rosa, which is of course a lovely bonus! At Bon I also worked unpaid, which frustrated me towards the end.
R: What are the differences between internships in Sweden and abroad?
F: At Bon I felt less disposable, and more important. As an intern, you are a tiny fish in the sea, but the places that make you feel seen and respected are the ones that give you the most rewarding experience. I think Bazaar also managed to do that well. However, I did my best to perform so that the team would see me as valuable. Simply put, I did my best. Personally, I don’t think it’s hard to do well as an intern, but of course it depends on how much you put in, how skilled you are and how well you get along with the people. In terms of cultural differences, it’s easy to ‘join the team’ in the UK. British people are friendly and polite, which is welcoming when you are new and junior. However, it’s hard to compare as Bon is part of a small company, and thus provides a more personal experience. In the UK I worked at bigger companies only. In terms of pay, both places are equally bad. These were all unpaid internships, Stylist and Bazaar paid expenses only. What about you?
R: I nod and agree with most of your reflections as I can relate to the feeling of yearning to acquire more skills and knowledge and the experiences that one has because of it. Well, in my case my trajectory is a bit the same but different! I started my first internship at Elle in Sweden when I was 21, I think it was my second year at university and I didn’t really plan it to be honest. I just sent an e-mail rambling about that I was reading 15 different fashion magazines and aspired to be a great fashion journalist/writer. To my delight I got a reply about two weeks later from my former boss Jennie Fredriksson asking me why I just don’t come over to Elle and learn from there. The internship was great! It was a big company and I worked closely with my boss and we basically became team partners! I remember I got credited for all my work quickly and was very happy because of it, kind of like a dog getting rewards. The internship was 3-4 months long.
After that internship I came to Bon! Where I met you! And by this time almost a year had passed and the internship was also part of finishing my BA. After Elle I thought I was determined and assured that publishing was for me but that I just needed more ‘intellectual’ stimulation. So I thought Bon was perfect for me as I loved the magazine from a young age just like you. But like you said you get closer to the team and you’re a big fish in a small pond, well that did not fit me, I think. My experience of it was overall very different from yours. I did learn things, but more through drowning and finally learn how to swim, as a colleague put it. Even though I had a boss/supervisor, I felt I was assisting too many people in the team. However, I learned three things well; editing, that I suck at editing and that publishing was not for me.
After two internships at reputable titles I felt that no matter how much I tried, I wasn’t good enough or getting better. The most recent internship I did in Sweden was at the Swedish Fashion Council, which left after two weeks. Not because they weren’t nice – they were – but it felt too small for me. And there was a lack of structure and order. So how could I develop? Overall, I realised that I wanted to change field all together, and just switch to PR. So I began my MSc at business school in advertising and PR.
The course has led me to the internship I’m currently doing in Copenhagen at Hugo Boss where I am a marketing intern. I really enjoy it so far, it reminds me of Elle. It’s a big company (but I work on a local level), it’s team oriented, I work closely with my two supervisors. As this is my first time internship outside of Sweden, I can spot some differences. Sure, it’s still Scandinavia, but Hugo Boss is a bit more hierarchic than the places I was at in Sweden. I like knowing what my place is, what is expected of me, what I can do and not do.
Danish culture is direct and straight forward, so information rarely gets lost in translation compared to in Sweden where, I feel, you are free to ask, but not too much. Basically have to read between the lines, which can be confusing to me. In Denmark, there is nothing like as ‘asking too many questions’, it’s more a sign of interest so that you can get things right. Also, having a great sense of humour is important here, as Danes love to joke around. I laugh pretty much everyday.
F: Has your mindset changed after working in another culture than your own?
R: Yes! I now see working in Sweden as a luxury! It’s more about relaxing whilst learning, taking your time. Abroad.. you actually have to work and be productive – then after work you can relax. I feel like now I know what I’m good at and what I’m not and that I learn new things everyday. Like being a school child again! I now feel my greatest skill is communication, and I also believe more in the fashion industry. Lastly, this internship has made me realise that I still want to be an independent writer and not just completely let go of publishing. I should stick to writing indepently, and with Filippa on this site, then focus on a career in PR. I no longer feel I have to force myself to have skills or talent, now I feel all these things just take time to develop.
F: Yes, I think internships make it clearer what you want to aim for. For me, it’s clearer than ever that I want to work as a fashion editor at some point, combining styling and writing. I know that full-time journalism is not where I will start my career, but I still want to write and interview people. Furthermore, I see that the fashion industry is bursting with exciting opportunities and I want to try different paths. Now that I’m graduating I’m honestly open for so many different things, from content creation, to consultancy and PR.
What would be your advice to a young Swedish person going to work abroad interested in the fashion industry?
F: Remember that in most cultures, Swedes have a reputation for being efficient and driven employees. Allow that to give you some confidence, and don’t be afraid to work hard, contribute with ideas and take the space you deserve. The people who speak up and make an effort are always more fun and memorable than the quiet, careful ones. That said, my advice is also to take time to absorb the workplace and the colleagues. You don’t have to make a fabulous impression on the very first day, you can sit back and get to know everyone before you get interactive and start producing good work.
R: I would say it is important to understand your place, not only in that company, but the whole geographical, cultural and social context. Be open, try to be patient but most importantly try to see things objectively at all times so that you don’t easily feel discarded. Regardless of how open-minded and well-travelled you are, experiencing a new culture is fun, but not always easy.